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Cool Chips Are Hot

Intel promises chips that consume less power and are easier to manage. The measure of its success will be whether they help companies cut costs.
Active-management technology, slated for early 2006, will be added to Intel's processors through the use of a microcontroller-like chip that will be added to the networking chipset in its new processor platforms. The controller is meant to simplify the ability to deploy and monitor systems built around the new platforms, letting IT managers remotely analyze and fix systems by providing information and the ability to diagnose, debug, update, and control a system even if power or the operating system is turned off.

A major goal is to reduce the number of "desk visits" to fix a machine--each set of which can cost as much as $180, says Steve Ward, chief executive of computer maker Lenovo, a unit of Lenovo Group Ltd. Ward last week showed a prototype of ThinkVantage management technology that combines Lenovo's Antidote Delivery Manager software with Intel's active-management and virtualization technologies to automate maintenance tasks and use virtual partitions to protect systems from viruses.

AMD--which last week pitched camp at a hotel within walking distance of Intel's Developer Forum--promises to meet Intel in a head-to-head battle of multicore chips. AMD has gained server market share in the last year with its Opteron chip by introducing technologies such as dual-core processors and 64-bit capabilities to the x86 market before Intel. "Lowering IT costs has been a focus since our introduction of Opteron," says Brent Kerby, product marketing manager for Opteron. "We don't need to bring out a new architecture to accomplish that because our AMD64 architecture has been the basis for all of our innovations, and there is still a lot of headroom left for advancement."

Yet Intel's new architecture and embedded IT advances may push the company ahead of AMD in terms of technical innovation, now that the company is no longer putting so much focus on the gigahertz speed of chips. "Intel woke up from its frequency delusion and is now going full-bore on dual-core," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata.

Intel must overcome other problems if it's going to become more than a provider of processors. Centrino proved the platform concept can work. Combining chips for wireless communications with its computing processors and getting them in just about every new notebook helped create today's Wi-Fi boom, which created demand for more notebooks and Intel chips.

But if Intel does the same thing in markets such as home entertainment and starts using more of its own chips for tasks such as graphics, third-party chipmakers may offer their technology advances and innovations to AMD. That could help the much smaller company stay ahead or at least keep pace with Intel and its much larger budget for research and development.

The goal may be to keep the chips cool. But the competition--as Intel and AMD ramp into high-production of dual-core processors next year and quad-core implementations in 2007--will be plenty hot.